Col. Young Oak Kim, 100th Inf. Bn. Visionary Leader Passes Away

Author: Christine Sato-Yamazaki
Go For Broke
Puka Puka Parades, February 2006, #06/1

Bio and funeral info for Col. Young Oak from Christine Sato-Yamazaki, Go For Broke Educational Foundation, Los Angeles, CA

Colonel Young Oak Kim (Ret), a highly decorated U.S. Army veteran of World War II and the Korean War and humanitarian who dedicated his life to helping others and supporting and founding many Asian American civic organizations, passed away from cancer on December 29,2005 at Cedars-Sinai Hospital. He was 86.

Colonel Kim was born in Los Angeles and raised in the Bunker Hill area, the second child of Korean immigrants Soon Kwon and Nora Koh Kim. Understanding the importance of serving his country, Kim enlisted in the U.S. Army in January 1941 and was later selected to the Infantry Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia, the only Asian American in his class. In February 1943, as a 2nd Lieutenant, Kim was assigned to the 100th Infantry Battalion, a segregated unit of Japanese Americans from Hawaii

When asked by his commanding officer if he would like a transfer, knowing the historical conflicts between Koreans and Japanese, Kim stated that they were all Americans and were going to fight the war together. And they did just that. Kim as a member of the 100/442nd Regimental Combat Team fought valiantly in Italy and France to become the most decorated in U.S. military history for its size and length of service.

In Italy Kim received his first Silver Star and Purple Heart for actions near Santa Maria Olivetto. But it was after the battle of Cassino and his promotion to 1st lieutenant that Kim is best known. At the battle of Anzio, during broad daylight he volunteered to capture German soldiers for intelligence information. He and another soldier crawled more than 600 yards located directly under German observation posts with no cover. They captured two prisoners and obtained information that significantly contributed to the fall of Rome. For his actions, Kim received the Distinguished Service Cross from the U.S. and the Military Valor Cross, the highest military decoration in Italy. Later promoted to Captain, Kim and the 100/442 fought in the battles that liberated towns of Bruyeres and Biffontaine. Kim was wounded in Biffontaine and awarded his second Purple Heart as well as the Croix de la Guerre (upgraded to the French Legion of Valor in February 2005, France’s highest military honor) from France. In addition, the people of Biffontaine dedicated a plaque on the wall of their village church in commemoration of Captain Kim’s outstanding heroism and appreciation to all the soldiers who helped to liberate their town.

After WWII, Kim returned to Los Angeles and started a successful business. But because of the Korean War, he reenlisted in the Army in 1950. In 1951 he arrived in Korea and commanded the “Benedae” South Korean guerrilla unit. Kim took part in the U.N. Forces’ last drive into the north and awarded his second Silver Star and Bronze Star. Upon his promotion to Major, he became the first Asian American to command a regular U.S. combat battalion in a war, the 1st Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th U.S. Army Division. He was able to convince this battalion to adopt an orphanage in Seoul, where more than 500 war orphans received supplies and monetary support to ensure their survival. It was the only U.N. military unit on the frontlines to adopt an orphanage during the war. For his actions in the Korean War, in late 2005, Colonel Kim received the Taeguk Order of Military Merit.

Upon return, Kim served in the Army in various assignments and locations in Germany and the states. From 1963-1965 Kim served again in Korea as a military advisor to the Republic of Korea Army. During his work there, he assisted in the revision of the Defense Plan of Korea. The plan was established in the event of another Korean war and became the backbone of today’s Defense Plan of Korea. In 2000, Colonel Kim was appointed by the Secretary of the Army to serve on the Outside Experts Committee investigating the U.S. Army’s involvement with the No Gun Ri massacre of Korean refuges during the Korean War.

He was promoted to Colonel in 1965, serving in various capacities until his retirement from the Army in 1972. After graduating from California State University, Dominguez Hills with a bachelor’s degree in history, Colonel Kim became the CEO of Fine Particle Technology in San Diego and volunteered his time to many different organizations, including serving as a Board of Trustees member of the Los Angeles chapter, United Way. His work with United Way led to his involvement with several nonprofit organizations in the Asian American community. He was the founding chairman of Family & Friends of Keiro Homes; founding co-chairman and current honorary chair of Korean Health, Education, Information and Research Center; former chairman of Center for Pacific Asian Families; founding member, former chairman and board of trustees member of the Korean American Museum; founding vice chairman and board of governors member of the Japanese American National Museum; and founding member and honorary member board of trustees of the Korean American Coalition.

Colonel Kim was most proud and fond of his service with the Japanese American World War II veterans and knew that it was imperative that their American story – that of sacrifice, honor, and duty – to ensure civil liberties for all be preserved. Until the day he passed, Colonel Kim passionately served as chairman emeritus of the Go For Broke Educational Foundation, an organization he co-founded in 1989. It was under his direction that he led WWII veterans to build the Go For Broke Monument dedicated in 1999 in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo district. He also envisioned this story introduced in classrooms, and today through the Go For Broke Educational Foundation, the story of the 100/442nd Regimental Combat Team is being taught to teachers in California and Hawaii.

Colonel Kim is survived by his sister Willa of New York; brothers Jack (Kyoung Ha) and Henry (Cookie); nieces Dyanne McMath, Celeste Rosas, Christine Kim, and Nancy Riolo; nephews Walter McMath, Jack Kim, Jr., Gary Kim, and Henry Kim, Jr.; and stepsons Jerry Surh, Tom Surh, and Corey Covert.

Funeral services were held on Monday, January 9 at the Santa Monica United Methodist Church, 1008 11th Street, Santa Monica, California, Burial services will be held on February 3, 2006, at National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl) in Honolulu, HI. In lieu of flowers, please send donations made payable to the Go For Broke Educational Foundation. Donations will be made to both the Go For Broke Educational Foundation and the Center for Pacific Asian Families.